GOP strategically skips sheriff

Republicans achieved another historic milestone in Robeson County recently, with the first known contested GOP primary races.

Republican Jarrod Lowery is former vice chair of the local party and a Tribal Council member. He will face Republican Tom Norton of Palmer Drug Abuse in the GOP primary to decide who will challenge Rep. Charles Graham, a Democrat. Republican legislators Danny Britt and Brendan Jones do not have GOP challenges.

Republican David Edge, who has made a name for himself as the lone Republican fighting on the Board of Commissioners, has a Republican challenge from R.G. Hammonds.

Republican Allan Adams is another top-of-the-ticket candidate who will face the winner of the Democratic primary in the race for the district attorney seat in November.

Congressman Robert Pittenger will defend his seat in the GOP primary with a rematch against former Charlotte pastor Mark Harris. Harris won Robeson last time they met in a three-way race. Pittenger ultimately won the district by 134 votes. The congressional GOP primary will be another three-way race with Clarence Goins from Cumberland as the third candidate.

Republicans made a conscious decision to avoid the sheriff’s race for many reasons, and the decision was difficult after a lot of input. You have to understand the complexity and the concern.

The Republican legislature just lowered the percentage needed to avoid a runoff in a primary from 40 to 30 percent. It’s a little known fact that is important. What happens with it lowered?

In a race between a couple of candidates, it is meaningless. But in a crowded field, lowering the threshold means if one candidate doesn’t dominate and votes are equally distributed with only one barely meeting the 30 percent threshold, then the winning candidate who emerges from that race is by definition a weak candidate. Understand a candidate who achieves less than 40 percent didn’t achieve enough support to carry over to win a General Election. This move allowing a weak candidate to emerge would favor the Republican in the General.

Republican methodology is to approach primaries and campaigns with a surgical knife. GOP operatives vet candidates and try not to overload a primary if possible. Campaigns are approached with the same synergistic precision, calculating how one campaign will impact another to understand the broad effect of actions.

Democrat methodology approaches the process more like a club. Let everyone file and every campaign is pretty much independent of the other, even after the primary. Democrats still vet and influence but Republicans seem to be more careful about picking fights strategically, having been underdogs so long.

The result is exemplified in the sheriff’s race. Burnis Wilkins leads in the qualification race. But Ronnie Patterson has the best chance taking advantage of vote dilution to emerge if no one dominates. If one of those barely edges past the 30 percent because of this vote dilution from too many candidates then the candidate, that person will win with weak support.

Though this is a promising scenario not just here, but statewide, Republicans factored in how matchups would influence other General Election races. There wasn’t enough consensus to risk those unknowns. It may be a mistake. But Republicans have decided to pick 2018 fights carefully.

It is a bit surprising Democrats want to pick a fight with a successful and moderate state senator. Having two Democrats wishing to challenge Danny Britt will require both attempting to see who can position themselves most to the left of the other ideologically to win a Democratic primary. The winner would then have to appeal to a larger moderate electorate to win a General Election.

But Sen. Britt already holds this moderate support, has achieved more legislation than any senator in recent history and funneled a tremendous amount of funding toward Robeson. Having opponents who have to win over two disparate electorates to succeed only strengthens his position.

Phillip Stephens is chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party. Visit

Phillip Stephens is chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party. Visit